Some first thoughts on the WWDC 2015 keynote

I admit that I was very excited about this years WWDC. This might be surprising because there was no crazy new stuff expected. But I am out of the iOS/Mac developer loop since more or less 1.5 years now. I still follow the news and have a look at some things here and there, but my current job does not allow me to do any real work on the platforms I like so much. Watching as many WWDC session videos as possible helps at least a little bit to have a basic knowledge about the key features of these platforms. The keynote is the one session each year that brings back the excitement and joy I once had working on these things. I watched the keynote last year and was blown away by all the crazy things they announced for developers. That’s why I was so much looking forward to this years keynote.

And I was not disappointed. Mostly.

This is just a writeup of things that jumped to my mind after watching the keynote. It’s no in-depth view on new features, neither is it fanboyism. I had some basic thoughts and here they are:

Apple’s new confidence

I attended the first WWDC after Steve Jobs died. That was in 2012. It was the first keynote held by Tim Cook. Back then you could see that this is a new role for him. It felt a little like he misses some confidence maybe added with some nervousness. Over the years this changed a lot and the last events were already a magnitude better. You could feel the change in the way Apple is presenting itself during the last few years already, but this year was my personal highlight of Tim Cook’s keynotes. It felt like this is him now. The interviews he gave in the past few months and his speeches already showed that this man is really the leader Apple needs and deserves. Today’s event was started with such underlying power and confidence of Tim Cook… it blew my mind. There was nothing special he said or did, it was just the way he presented himself on stage.

Times are different in the Apple sphere nowadays. The game has changed, Apple is the biggest tech leader in consumer electronics. Things have changed for the developers on Apple’s platforms as this is no platform of the underdog anymore. Many developers might wish that it stayed that way – it is actually not that uncomfortable to not be in the lead, being able to bark at the other companies that are reaching more people and making more money. Now Apple’s developer community is in the lead. This changes a lot of things for the long time Mac developers. The whole eco system changes and has to change. Apple is the most successful company in the world. In this position you have to change things, open up and move forward. A few years ago being as strict about openness and leaking information to the outside world helped Apple to get where it is now. Now Apple is showing lots of change, in my opinion change for the better. This is to a great extent a merit of Tim Cook. Without his personality, Apple would not be in the position it is today and it would not have such a confidence in itself again. And that’s what it felt like seeing him on stage.

Polishing the systems

Admitted, there is no next big thing. And there is no need for that. It’s simply not possible to create yet another big surprise each and every year. Analysts, journalists or haters might live in a bubble telling them that it is natural to go on in a speed like the tech industry has over the last few years. I think it is better to step back for a moment and look at the great achievements that were reached during the last 5 or 10 years. This speed is not normal and not sustainable. Google’s keynote a few days ago did not uncover any new big shots either. This is a good sign. What really matters at the moment is to look at what was built, realize that there are lots of rough edges all over the systems at the moment. The last two years with the rapid change in the systems of iOS and OS X might have introduced more bugs than ever. Many users and developers began to get frustrated with this situation. Another problem in my opinion is that the developers have to stay up to date and learn incredible amounts of new stuff. At this pace, not many can do this anymore.

This years’ system updates are a step in the right direction. There are no major changes, no complete UI overhaul, only polishing and advancement – at least on first sight, telling from what they showed at the keynote. Some features might look like unnecessary… but it’s all these little details, the best usability for users, the integration of the apps, the performance and stability improvements that made the Mac and iPhone what they became well known for. Everything I saw only helps to get back on track and make the systems stable enough to come up with bigger features and changes in future. Another year or two of releases that bring in more and more bugs and instability Mac users knew only from Windows a few years ago and Apple might get trouble to keep its position in the market. But what I saw today really seems to go in the right direction.

Apple’s take on privacy

There were a few features shown today that look similar to things available on Android already. But they are different. Just as in Tim Cook’s speech about security and privacy a few days ago, Apple made clear that it is not interested in the user’s data. When talking to Siri or searching for something, Apple does not store user information. Everything possible is done on the device, data processed in the cloud is anonymized, not bound to a user account and not shared between devices. This is what I expect in regards of privacy. I don’t want Google to collect every information one can imagine to „provide services“ to me. They don’t have to know all about me to show me ads. Their web services and apps might be better than others. But my privacy is more important to me than having one or two features more. It’s my privacy and I don’t want companies making money with it. I’m not a product.

A note on iPad Multitasking

Yes, this feature is totally copied from Windows 8. But let me tell you: I developed for Windows 8 and the split mode on Windows is a disaster. The apps look horrible, the integration and interoperability of the apps is basically not existing. The iPad demo today was very promising that Apple did not do this mistake as well. It looked very well integrated and smooth. I hope it actually turns out that way. The advantage for iOS apps is that Apple pushed developers to create their apps in a way that they dynamically adjust to the screen size they run on. This started with the introduction of Auto Layout a few years ago. This was pushed further with size classes which were already hinting developers at new sizes for iPads or iPhones before they existed. Adjusting apps to a new split mode on iPhone 6+ devices using Adaptive UI was the last step in this direction. All that means that apps that adjusted to this way of development will most probably just run as they are on iPads in multitasking mode and look just as they would on a large iPhone. At this point, I would not allow comparisons to the hell that Android developers have to go through to support different device sizes. This feature is the next step on a development path that was introduced by Apple three years ago.

Another question is whether this is a feature that is highly needed or not. Time will tell, but I think there are a lot of people out there that were waiting for this for years. Whether developers think this is right or not actually does not really matter. What matters is what the real users need. I think I might really like it, others might not. I stopped fighting over things like this years ago.

One more thing… Ping 2.0

Besides the system updates there was a new (and expected) music streaming service announced. The pure service itself is a very strong competitor to all existing services. It has some great features I missed or do not find satisfying enough on other services like Spotify. Curated playlists, discovering new and maybe unknown artists and the like is something I really wished would be better elsewhere. We will see how this works out in the Apple service, but I will give it a shot. If it is not better that what I currently use I will not switch though as I don’t see much more value than on other services. The huge Apple catalog might be the key point, but up until now, I found almost everything I need on Spotify as well.

The service itself might be a great new product of Apple. The presentation was not up to their standards though. It was awkward, way too long and over-explaining lots of stuff. It’s a great new service, but it’s not that much of rocket science as they tried to make people think in the presentation. There are lots of streaming services existing and lots of people already use them, so there was no need to try to make people think Apple invented some new big thing. A platform for artists to present themselves and interact with their fans really looks like iTunes Ping 2.0. Ping was a „social network“ on iTunes which was introduced in 2010 and got dumped only 2 years later because nobody was using it. I really hope that it will work out better this time, but I really had to laugh when I heard about this feature and the way they presented it today.

Summary

In short, I was really satisfied with the keynote today. It showed even more confidence than last year and brings the systems a step further in the right direction. Setting the focus on stability, performance, security, little usability details and the introduction of only a few bigger new features, I think the system releases will be a lot better than last year. Apple’s new streaming service will be a huge competitor to existing services, but whether it will be a huge success – especially Ping 2.0 – is not so clear to me. I really look forward to watching as many sessions as possible this week. WWDC week is always exciting for me… it brings me back to the development environment where I belong to for some time.